Check out the video.. one of the sun bears was making a weird sound. It's the one in the basket, her name is Suzie. Perhaps Papa Bear, Wong Siew Te can explain why?
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The above video was posted on LEAP blog by Sue.
Thanks for posting this behavior on sun bears that not many people know about. This sound is a “suckling” sound when the bear such a particular body part of themselves or other bears. It is fairly common among the captive sun bears, especially young ones. The reason behind this is actually quite sad.
In the wild, mother sun bears nurse their cubs up to 2 years or even longer. During this time, besides suckling for mother’s milk, the process of suckling also let the cubs seek comfort and feel secure and safe being side by side with their mother. This behavior is best explained by human babies sucking pacifier to seek comfort. Same theory: no milk draw out from the pacifier, but the suckling action make the babies feel comfort and safe.
Most captive sun bears share the very similar stories: they all were being captured by poachers and separated with the mother when they were at very young age. These were serious traumas, especially those mother bears being slaughtered in front of the babies. There was a story that I will never forgot in my life: a tiny baby sun bear was tied up for sale at Gaya Street Sunday market in Kota Kinabalu, and its mother was being cut up in pieces for sale as meat.
This kind of trauma is way beyond anyone’s imagination. Anyway, these baby bears grow up without mother and without a chance to suckle. However, suckling is an innate behavior. When the cub is hungry or feel uncomfortable, they suckle their mother’s breast. For these poor captive bears, they do not have their mother around, but the urge to suckle is very strong. So they learn to suckle on something handy. This “something handy” can be any part of their body like limbs, toes, or paws. More commonly was something that they can “latch on” like their own penis for male bears or vulva for female bears. If there are other young bears around, they may suck on each other’s ears. They always suckle on the same object or the same body part over and over again that later become their favorite suckling object.
The suckling behavior may progress to their adulthood if they are constantly under stress. It is consider as a kind of “stereotypic” behavior. I worked with a female sun bear named Batik. Batik was about 2 year old when I released her into the forest. During her life in captivity, she suckled her left hind feet constantly, especially when she feel stress or threat, to a point where there was a hairless, bare patch on her left feet leg. She was kept in a small cage when she sucked most. When she was reintroduce into the forest, her suckling behavior ceased thereafter. New hairs grew back from her bare patch on her left hind feet.
Every time I approached young captive bears, I mean every time, I always give them my finger to suckle. They all would responded the same way: suckled my finger, admitted the sound you heard from this video clip, and calmed down with comfort.
“How can anyone done such a cruelty to a helpless animal?"
"How can we not to do our best to help them?”
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